A small publishing company in St. Paul, Minn., next month will begin printing a daily English translation of Pravda, the Soviet Union's principal newspaper and an official organ of the Communist Party.
Charles Cox, who formed Associated Publishers last year after his "second retirement," said subscriptions will cost $630 a year. "Most of our subscribers are obviously going to be libraries, universities, a few schools," Cox said. "But it's a funny thing. A barber in Southern California said he's going to subscribe. He said at $1.75 a day it would make his barbershop unique."
Cox said the English translations will be printed with the same layout as the Russian version. "Subscribers will get a package every week with both the translations and the original. You'll be able to lay them out side by side and they'll be precisely the same. It should take 10 days to two weeks after the actual Russian publication to get the translation in the mail."
Pravda may not be a comprehensive or reliable source of news about the Soviet Union or elsewhere, but it can be a kind of tipsheet to the machinations of the Soviet government.
Some historians feel Nikita Khrushchev's career dates from the time when he put his name to a letter in Pravda in 1930 denouncing an anti-Stalin faction. His career as leader of the Soviet Union was obviously over in 1964 when the paper published a critique of his government but never mentioned his name. The announcement of his death in Pravda was marked by a two-line story that identified him merely as "a pensioner."
Said Cox, "We look at Pravda, obviously, not so much as a newspaper in the western sense but as an organ of the Central Committee. Every day it expresses their views and pronouncements. That's the real value."
Cox said he decided to translate Pravda, rather than the Soviet Union's other major paper, Izvestia, because Pravda is a better gauge of the Soviet government's views.
Cox, 64, retired from the publishing business in 1983 and immediately "began looking for something to do." He has been working on the project for two years. Advertisements for the paper will run later this month in The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.
The translators include American-born academics and Russian emigre's. Cox said his lawyers have advised him that is not necessary to get permission from Moscow.
The first version of Pravda was produced in 1908 in Vienna by Leon Trotsky. Pravda, which means "truth," has been publishing in the Soviet Union since 1912 when the Bolsheviks had their headquarters in St. Petersburg (now Leningrad). Before the Revolution in 1917, the paper was often confiscated by czarist police and editors were frequently jailed or fined; its first Bolshevik editor was Stalin. The paper's circulation -- in excess of 11 million in 1980 -- provides, by some estimates, one third of the Communist Party's income.
Pravda is fairly skimpy, usually six pages, and is dominated by speeches, official announcements and accounts of agricultural and industrial achievements. One of the more interesting sections of the paper is the letters column on Page 2. Nearly a third of Pravda's journalists in Moscow spend their day deciding which letters to publish; sometimes a letter critical of an institution becomes a news story in the West. Pravda is also a vehicle for floating new government ideas or policies.
"For all the boring stuff, Pravda is an absolutely fascinating document," Cox said. "The interest we've attracted is phenomenal."